by Lady Laura

A Heavenly Vision (A Christmas Story)

Horatio Hornblower leaned over his wife's still form, wondering why he had let himself be talked into letting her come along on their mission. They had to attack and sink a Spanish ship, the Enrique Sanchez. Sanchez had been a legendary captain in His Most Catholic Majesty's navy, sinking more than 20 British ships in three years.

There had been a skirmish with the Enrique Sanchez that day. Horatio had piloted his sloop of war, Retribution through it beautifully, losing only 7 men. Yet there was a great number wounded, and Horatio's wife Mary was one of them.

It was nothing serious, the doctor had assured him after performing a routine operation to dig out the splinter that had embedded itself in Mary's abdomen. The doctor had given Mary a draught of valerian, and wanted to keep her for observation that night.

Horatio did not object, he wanted Mary well, and in one piece. He knew that Mary had only recently recovered from her life-threatening injuries after being washed overboard by a huge rogue wave. She had been found, comatose but alive. Mary had lapsed into a full-fledged coma, unresponsive to anyone that tried to wake her. After about three months, she had awakened fully.

Leaning over, Horatio checked on Mary again. She had been missing at first, after the battle. He remembered looking for her, then finding her in a sea of blood-most of it wasn't hers. Amazingly, she'd been conscious when he found her.

Mary had blood soaking her shirt, he remembered. Horatio had actually been shaken up when he first saw her. Mary calmed him down.

" It'll be okay. It's just a scratch." she had said. Thost words had sparked a painful memory on Horatio's mind. Archie Kennedy, Horatio's best friend, had said those words as he was slowly dying from a gunshot in his stomach, and a nasty infection.

But Mary hadn't been shot, she just had a splinter in her lower front. Then-Horatio hated remembering this part-she had blacked out in his arms. He had to keep reminding himself that splinters were not serious. Mary would be good as new in a few days.

But morbid thoughts crowded Horatio's mind. He kept thinking about the what-ifs. What is he hadn't got there in time? What if she had died in his arms?

Horatio was arguing with himself when a hand reached out from the shadow of darkness, and undid Mary's bandage. A keen pair of eyes studied the original injury, and the surgery that Mary had sustained. The silhouetted outline of a person nodded, pleased with the end result.

" Captain Hornblower?" a inquisitive voice pierced theough the deafening silence in the sick bay. Horatio jumped as the person put a new bandage on Mary, then turned their piercing blue eyes on Horatio.

" Yes?"

" Shouldn't you be in bed, sir?"

" I tried, but I had a dream of when Mary was dead, lying in her own blood." he inwardly flinched.

" Ah. She is fortunate to have you. Ms. Driskell told me a little of her own tortured past."

" Yes, I was there when her eldest sister kidnapped her before our wedding. She was beaten severly, but she told me she had never given up hope that I would rescue her."

" After all she has been through, her spirit is unbreakable."

" Yes, She's a fighter, doctor." Dr. Lawrence and Horatio were positioned on either side of Mary, looking down at her sleeping face. She looked more peaceful now that the valerian had worn off. The doctor retired to his own quarters.

Horatio knew that the day was December 24, Christmas Eve. He pondered on what to give Mary. When Horatio had been a boy, his mother had died from a fatal fever that weakened her heart. Horatio had the fever, then gave it to his mother when she insisted on sitting up by her ill son's side.

He'd almost died from the sickness himself, and his father, Dr. Hornblower, had neglected his son until he was sent off to school. Horatio remembered Archie, and how his Christmases were not joyous occasions either. They had been more like torture to both Horatio and Archie.

Just thinking of Archie brought up the floodgates. Horatio went abovedecks, letting his grief immerse him for a few minutes. Bush, the first lieutenant, noticed, but said nothing. Horatio remembered Archie's first words to him when they met aboard the 74 gunner ship-of-the-line, Justinian.

" Welcome to Purgatory!"

Horatio regained control of himself, and thought of what Mary had told him that morning of what she desired most in the world.

" I just want a full night's sleep, Horatio. No unpleasant memories, no nightmares resurfacing to plague me again." she had awakened that day after dreaming she had been sent to the guillotine.

Realizing he'd better get below before Bush or the sailing master, Ed McMasters saw him like this, he hustled belowdecks, going back to Mary's bedside. He stopped short by what he saw.

In the candlelight at both ends of the bed, Mary looked like a sleeping angel. She had regained her healthy color, her face was no longer pale and drawn. The soft light had made her dark brown hair look auburn, she looked like she had gotten what she wanted that Christmas.

" She looks like a angel of God." Horatio didn't even realize he had spoken.

He went and sat at the edge of her bed, studying her intently. Horatio gently brushed a few locks of brown hair away from Mary's closed eyes. Taking Mary's hands in his own, he rubbed them gently, trying not to awaken her.

Mary stirred, then awakened a bit.

" Horatio, what's going on-"

" Shhhhhh. Go back to sleep." he whispered to her, putting his index finger on her lips. She looked confused for a second, still half in the grip of sleep, so it was no problem for her. She closed her eyes.

When she was once again deeply asleep, normal unconsciousness taking place instead of fainting from pain, Horatio observed. He leaned over her still form, and gave her a long kiss on the lips. When he sat back down in his chair, he once again marveled at how the candlelight made his wife look like a angel. It was no illusion, he told himself, Mary is truly a angel.

Finally, Horatio let himself give in to sleep, a pleasant darkness that soon had him in its clutches. He slept and dreamed fitfully, satisfied that all was right with the world.

Author's note: 1/6/02.
I first had the idea to write this little story after a Christmas experience I had last year. My past is not as tortured as Mary's(She's based on me), nor did my two brothers pound me, but I was forced to undergo a series of medical tests. The experience has came back to haunt me, but this past Christmas I experienced what Mary had experienced in this story. Not that anyone would make the mistake of calling me a angel! But is someone observed me sleeping in my room, by how peaceful I look, they might. Horatio offers Mary solace from her traumatized past, and he longs to rid her of the demons that still plague her from time to time.
I still want peace of mind from what had befallen me back in 1998, but I guess I might never have it. Anyway, the experience was horrifying, but it was worth it. I am well again, and I have no doubt that I will live a long and healthy life.
-Laura J Dyer

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